Oregon head coach Willie Taggart is leaving for Florida State, per a source close to the hiring process. He’ll replace Jimbo Fisher, who left for Texas A&M.
On Tuesday, Taggart met with Florida State officials about the Seminoles’ vacant head coaching job. As SB Nation’s Bud Elliott has reported since before Fisher’s exit, the Oregon head coach has been FSU’s top priority:
I believe if FSU offers Taggart a competitive number, and it doesn’t create a long, drawn-out process that would make it untenable for him to return to Oregon if things went south, that he would take the job. Although FSU hasn’t had a true coaching search in more than 40 years, I don’t expect this to be the disorganized mess that’s currently unfolding in Knoxville, Tennessee.
After taking over a 4-8 team, Taggart went 7-5 in his first Oregon season — with four of those losses during a five-game injury absence by starting QB Justin Herbert — and an upcoming Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.
Turnarounds are Taggart’s specialty.
He’s taking over a team that collapsed to 5-6 before Fisher’s exit. Here’s Tomahawk Nation’s chronicle of Taggart’s career, which sums it up pretty well:
After college, Taggart stayed at Western Kentucky under head coach Jack Harbaugh and worked as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2007, Taggart followed Harbaugh’s son, Jim (whom you may have heard of) to Stanford and served as the running backs coach.
In 2010, Western Kentucky hired Taggart as head coach and the former quarterback returned to his alma mater. The Hilltoppers finished 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, but snapped a 26-game losing streak. From there, Western Kentucky finished 7-5 in ‘11 and 7-5 in ‘12, accepting an invitation to the Little Caesar’s Pizza bowl in 2012. It was the Hilltoppers’ first Division 1 bowl berth in the history of the program.
However, Taggart left Western Kentucky before the bowl game in 2012 to accept the head coaching position at South Florida. Under the direction of former coach Skip Holtz, the Bulls had spiraled out of control, finishing 3-9 prior to Taggart’s arrival.
Taggart’s tenure in Tampa did not start out great, as the Bulls finished a paltry 2-10 in 2013. However, his team continued to get better each year, culminating in a 10-2 season in 2016. With talented Quinton Flowers at quarterback, the Bulls had one of the best offenses in the country that year, even giving Florida State a test early in the season.
While the head coach at USF, he led the Bulls to a program-best, 11-win season in 2016.
In Tampa, he built a flexible offensive juggernaut that switched on the fly from a complex pro-style to an up-tempo spread, featuring a roster made up of in-state recruits:
In their iteration of the spread, USF wants to move at tempo, but with exactly enough time to shift and motion at the line, just like it’s noon on Saturday in Ann Arbor. Then the receivers, using Baylor’s famously wide alignments, can take their DBs — and themselves — out of the play completely, if needed.
The result challenges your best defender to tackle someone out of a motioning backfield in open space. That’s where 40-yard plays are born, not from a big pile on the line.
And with a roster from the talented Sunshine State, USF likes those odds. If you can’t stop them, or if you bring in help on QB run reads, Flowers has at least one deep option on every play in one-on-one coverage, where the Bulls will again gladly challenge best on best.
Each play call is everything your grumpy, Big Ten dad loves and hates about college football, at the exact same time.
He put together an impressive staff at Oregon, and he’s never stopped recruiting the state of Florida hard.
His first Oregon class, after just weeks on the job, included seven signees from the Sunshine State, and his 2018 class landed commits from three Florida four-stars, some impressive figures for a program on the other side of the country. The plan at Oregon was to recruit nationally, but Taggart was already entrenched in Florida:
“Can we get some Geto Boys?" [assistant Mario] Cristobal asks without looking up from his chart.
He’s referencing a group from Texas. Notably missing from Oregon’s class: Texas and talent-rich cities in SEC and Big Ten territories. Taggart’s abbreviated transition class bookends with seven Floridians and 11 Californians.
"Could’ve been even better with even a few more days," Taggart says.
"The strategy is that we’re gonna recruit California hard. We’re coming to California. And we’re gonna recruit Texas hard. But we’re always gonna recruit Florida. And Georgia. Those are football states. We’re gonna recruit football states. So we’re gonna recruit for Oregon in Ohio. I haven’t seen a limit yet to this brand, so we’re going.”